Talent gap holding many SMBs back from cashing in on emerging tech
New technologies and consumer gadgets are always front-and-center at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January, but there is also a wealth of new tech aimed at small and mid-sized businesses at the outset of each year.
With that in mind, Information Management recently spoke with Lauren Maffeo, senior analyst for Capterra, about emerging technologies and how many small businesses are grappling with them. For many SMB organizations, the number one obstacle to successfully adopting new technologies is the widening talent and skills gap.
Information Management: With regard to SMBs, what are the new and emerging technologies that have them most interested, and for what reasons?
Lauren Maffeo: Last year, Capterra surveyed more than 700 small and midsize business (SMB) leaders in the U.S. asking about their 2019–2020 purchase intentions for business software.
Our results showed intent to adopt four technologies across business size and industry:
- Finance & accounting: 54 percent
- Cloud computing: 48 percent
- Data & information security: 47 percent
- Digital marketing: 45 percent
These numbers speak to the universal need for these technologies. Regardless of industry and company size, all SMBs need tools to manage their finances, protect their data, and market their services online.
IM: How well is the typical SMB positioned to take advantage of such new technologies as artificial intelligence, machine learning or automation?
Maffeo: The average SMB will struggle to adopt new technologies. This is due in large part to lack of technical talent.
Machine learning systems constantly retrain themselves based on new data that they keep receiving. Because they receive new data in deployment, these systems often produce results in deployment that differ from their behavior in production.
This requires not just developers to build ML systems, but also data scientists to assess the ongoing quality of ML systems’ data and the validity of these systems’ results. ML architects and data scientists are valuable roles that enterprises struggle to recruit, let alone SMBs.
IM: What sorts of investments does the typical SMB have to make to implement any of these technologies?
Maffeo: Your average SMB won’t have the budget to recruit highly specialized talent that would allow them to build new technologies in-house. Luckily, we’re seeing more cloud software vendors incorporate AI-powered features into their product roadmaps.
Using cloud software that harnesses AI is a low-risk way for SMB leaders to start using everyday AI (which Gartner defines as “AI that is embedded in everyday applications, so that users get the benefits without actually being aware of the complex AI inside each application”).
SMB leaders should include AI in their software shopping process and ask vendors questions about how each product harnesses new tech. It’s not uncommon for vendors to overhype their products’ capabilities. To avoid bad investments, SMB leaders should ask specific questions during their software selection processes.
IM: What are the greatest challenges or pain points that SMBs are likely to experience in the effort?
Maffeo: According to Gartner research, more than one third of software shoppers either feel “slightly confident” or “not confident at all” when selecting software. One in three shoppers say they have limited time to evaluate their options, and one in three say it’s hard to calculate the full cost. This makes sense considering that they cite paying too much as a key concern.
All of this confirms the crucial role of online reviews in the software shopping process. This same survey found that nearly half of software shoppers (47 percent) use software marketplaces like Capterra and online forums like Quora to get recommendations. When reading reviews, “pros and cons” are the most helpful content.
IM: What are the greatest rewards that an SMB can hope to gain with success adopting any of these technologies?
Maffeo: Gartner predicts that in 2021, AI augmentation will generate $2.9 trillion in business value and recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity. SMB leaders who can discern which tasks are best suited to software vs. those that a human should do will gain a competitive advantage.
They’ll see the highest productivity gains by helping humans and software each do the tasks that they excel at. The basic rule is that any rules-based, repetitive task is best suited to automation. By contrast, tasks that require more nuance (like direct client engagement) are best left to humans.
IM: What role does cloud computing and the IoT play in these efforts?
Cloud computing plays a key role due to its projected growth. Gartner predicts that by 2021, more than 70 percent of business users will have substantial cloud office capabilities. And Capterra’s survey of SMB leaders’ buyer behavior found that 48 percent of respondents are budgeting for cloud software.
Cloud software lacks the upfront costs of on-premise solutions, and their data is accessible across more devices. The growth of cloud computing will encourage vendors to keep adding AI-powered features to their product roadmaps.
The IoT plays a more complicated role. Its business benefits aren’t as clear, and building/implementing the IoT carries big technical risks. That’s because it’s an interconnected ecosystem of data and devices. If one of those devices goes offline or out of production, it affects the whole ecosystem.
Despite these challenges, Gartner predicts that 2019 is the year when businesses will gain more value from the IoT than ever before. SMB leaders who appoint technical leads for their IoT projects, automate where possible, and write strategies for the business problem(s) they want the IoT to solve will see the most success.
IM: What are the most common surprises that SMBs experience in these adoption efforts?
Maffeo: Two challenges for SMBs are not having the right in-house technical talent to maintain new technologies and adopting new tech that doesn’t integrate with the tools their teams already use. SMB leaders who want to adopt any new tech shouldn’t do so without confirming who will maintain it and whether it works with their current toolkits.
IM: What is your advice to information management or data management leaders at an SMS to best achieve success with new or emerging technologies?
Maffeo: Be honest with your colleagues about technical requirements while understanding the business strategy for these new technologies. Research from Capterra found that one in three SMB leaders said they shop for new technology by themselves.
This is an unnecessary risk, especially when business leaders are already pressed for time to find the right solutions. Business and technical leaders who collaborate increase their chances of finding and implementing new tech to grow their businesses.
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